Car Show Classic: 1974 Mercury Meteor Rideau 500 – A Real Canadian Survivor

These days it seems everyone is gaga over survivor cars, especially those with a nice helping of patina. This has led to the overuse of the term, and even to some people creating fake patina.  What is a survivor car though?  And what makes it so special? Paul N’s post on the 1954-55 International Travelall got me thinking about the significance of survivors.  He commented that vehicles such as this International are historically authentic.  It seems it stirs up memories of how he remembers many of these workaday vehicles.  And that’s when it hit home for me.

While that particular international may be historically authentic in Paul’s area of the world, that’s just not the case for my stomping grounds.  That’s why I found this particular vehicle incongruous, residing in Ontario, Canada like I do.  Old cars and trucks in Ontario didn’t age with nice patina like that International and I guess that’s why I have never found much appeal or connection with cars loaded with patina.

Where I grew up, vehicles rusted rotted from the bottom up. I remember old cars loaded with big holes, rusty frames, rotten floorboards, to the point that they usually fell apart around solid mechanicals.   Rust was always bad.  It was also often like an iceberg, with the visible rust being nothing compared to the rust hidden within and on the vehicles underside.  While not all cars disintegrated into piles of iron oxide, the cars that survived years of use looked more like the subject of this post, this 1974 Mercury Meteor.

It was surprisingly hard to find images genuine rusted out cars, but this one is pretty close to how cars rusted out in my area

This Meteor was far from perfect, but it was historically authentic, and in my eyes a true Ontario survivor.  How fitting that this example is also a Canadian only model.   This is how I remember these cars before they went almost complete extinct.   The survivors were typically owned by an older owner who had the experience, money and patience to keep his vehicle in decent shape.  Owners often invested in a “body job” or better yet got it repainted when the rust was starting to rear its ugly head.  Of course this work was rarely done to the standards restorers use today, but it was good enough to keep the car looking nice.

Before I discuss the subject car, let’s switch gears.  While I am sure most that frequent CC are familiar that Canada had its own variations of FoMoCo products,  I am going to go through a brief history of the unique Canadian standard sized Ford brands to refresh your memory.  In 1946 Ford of Canada released two new Canadian only models, the Mercury 114 and the Monarch.   The Mercury 114 was a 114” wheelbase Ford, dressed up to look like a Mercury.   While it looked as if it shared some parts with its 118” sibling the two cars were related in name only.  The purpose of this car was to allow Mercury-Lincoln dealers in Canada to have a low-priced car.  Canada’s sparse population meant that some areas may not have had a Ford franchise nearby to sell low-priced cars.

1946 Monarch Sedan – the most popular body style for that year

The Monarch was the opposite of the Mercury 114.  It used a Mercury body and chassis, but it had unique trim to differentiate it from other Mercurys.  This car allowed for Ford dealers to offer a medium priced car, which again helped in areas that may not have had a Mercury-Lincoln dealer nearby.

1949 Meteor

For 1949, the Mercury 114 was rebranded as the Meteor.  The Meteor followed the same concept, being a low-priced brand for Mercury-Lincoln dealers.  However, the 1949 Meteor pretty much looked like a 1949 Ford with Mercury style grille.   As time went on, the Meteor used fewer Mercury styling cues, and looked more like a Ford with alternate grilles and trim.  The new models worked well to ensure Ford of Canada had good market coverage.

1954 Meteor Rideau Skyliner

1957 Meteor Rideau 2-door Sedan

Ford followed this formula until 1961, however, things changed for the 1962 model year.   With the introduction of the Mercury Meteor senior compact, the use of the Meteor as a brand name for Mercury’s low priced car would be confusing.   As a result production of the Meteor and Monarch ended.  Monarch sales were never overly strong, and for 1961 Monarch sales were a meagre 25% of the total Meteor sales.  Ford dealers likely never had as much of an issue with volume as the Canadian Mercury-Lincoln dealers. So elimination of Monarch was a logical choice.

1963 Mercury 400

Mercury dealers would miss their low price Meteor as it was quite a good seller.  For 1963, Mercury dealers in Canada got a bit of a reprieve when history repeated itself.   Ford of Canada introduced a new low-price Mercury called the Mercury 400.  Unlike the old Mercury 114 though, these cars actually used Mercury bodies.  It was essentially a stripper Mercury, comparable to the US market Mercury Monterey but even more basic.  Unlike the US Mercury Monterey, the Mecrury 400 came standard with a 223 six and had an option 352-2V before the 390 was reached on the option list.  Despite Ford of Canada doing very little promotion or marketing of the 400, it ended up making up nearly a third of Canadian Mercury sales.

1964 Meteor 4-door Sedan

With the success of the 1963 400 and the senior compact Mercury Meteor ending production after the 1963 model year, Ford of Canada decided to bring back the Meteor marque.  Replacing the Mercury 400, the new Meteor was no longer based on a Ford.  From 1964 onwards the Meteor was chiefly a stripped down Mercury.  A ’64 Meteor differed from a ’64 Mercury by using Ford instrument panels, less expensive interior ornamentation and a base six cylinder engine.  The wholesale price of a Meteor was $50 more expensive than a base Ford.   The Meteor was directly marketed against GM of Canada’s highly successful Pontiac line.   While Mercury/Meteor sales didn’t surpass Pontiac for 1964, it did jump significantly from the 1963 Mercury numbers.

1965 Meteor Montcalm 2-door hardtop

1965 Meteor Rideau 4-door Sedan

The decision to drop the senior compact Mercury Meteor for the 1964 model year was a last-minute one.  As a result, Ford of Canada had little time to differentiate the ’64 Meteor from the Mercury.  For 1965, with more time at hand, the Meteor saw a number of changes to help distinguish the brand.  This included using Ford’s sedan roofs instead of Mercury’s with the reverse backlites, a unique grille, tail lights and bumper, a Ford instrument panel, Ford soft trims, and a base six cylinder engine.

1966 Meteor Montcalm Convertible

1968 Meteor Montcalm

1969 Meteor Montcalm Convertible

This practice continued throughout the 1960’s although for 1967 and 1968 the Meteor styling was getting closer to the Mercury’s.  For 1969, the US market Mercury Monterey had different front end styling than the other big Mercs.  Ford of Canada decided that the Meteor would take on the same appearance as the base level Monterey, albeit continuing to offer even lower priced trim and engines.

1970 Mercury Meteor Montcalm 2-door hardtop

For 1970, Meteor lost it individual branding and now was referred to as the Mercury Meteor, although it was still consider a separate marque from Mercury.   Although previous model year Meteor’s had essentially mirrored the Canadian Ford engine line-up, this was no longer the case for 1970.  The base engine was a 240-six for the 1970 Ford, but the Meteor’s base engine was upgraded to the 302-2V V8.  The Meteor carried on using this same formula until 1976.  There were a few changes of significance one of which was upgrading the base 302-V8 to a 351-2V in 1973.  After the discontinuing of the US Market Monterey for 1975, the Meteor used its own distinctive grille and trim styled in a similar fashion to the 1974 Monterey.  It continued to use exposed headlights as opposed to the covered lights on the remainder of the Mercury line.

1973 Mercury Meteor Montcalm

1974 Mercury Meteor Montcalm station wagon – only 278 produced

1975 Mercury Meteor Montcalm

The Canadian market had evolved considerably from the 1960’s and more and more people were buying cars outside of the low price field.  As a result the importance of the low-priced Mercury became less important.  Consequently in 1977, the Meteor was diluted further and renamed the Mercury Marquis Meteor, and lots it’s status as an independent marque.   They were now just a base model Mercury, and as a result production numbers weren’t differentiated from the rest of the Mercurys.  The 77’s used the covered lights and was very hard to distinguish from other Mercurys.  This practice continued until the Mercury Marquis Meteor was discontinued after 1981.  While all of previous Canadian Meteors were built-in Fords Oakville plant, ironically from 1977 to 1981, all Mercury Marquis Meteors were built-in St. Louis, alongside other Mercs.

I came across this subject car this past summer, in amongst the usual car show fare.  While I am not really a big fan of the big 1970’s land yachts, I have to admit I was immediately drawn to this car when I saw it.  While the streets used to be loaded with big American iron like this, the number that have survived is far and few between.

I spoke with the owner, and he had newly acquired the car.  He told me the car live most of its life in the Toronto area and owned by an elderly gentleman who he described as being like a father.  The car had been parked for some time now, and the owner just inherited and got it back on the road.  While it shows up fairly nice in the photos, it is a true Ontario survivor.   Inspecting more closely, hidden under the paint and vinyl roof were rust blisters and other blemishes that are common in our salty environment.  I suspect the car was likely repainted at some point in its life.

The 1974 Meteor line-up was made up of two model lines, the Rideau 500 and the Montcalm.  The Rideau 500 was the entry level trim and it consisted of a 2-door hardtop, 4-door sedan and 6-passenger wagon.  The pricier Montcalm was offered in the same three body styles.  The engine line-up consisted of the 351-2V, 400-2V and the 460-4bbl.  The subject car had a 351-2V, in this case a 351C.  When one selected a 351-2V from 1970-74 on the option list of a full-size or intermediate Ford, you could end up with either a 351W or 351C.  It seems the 351W was more common in the full size fords while the 351C was more common it the intermediates.  1974 also marked the last year for the 351C, which was replaced by the tall deck 351M variant in 1975.

1974 Mercury Meteor Rideau 500

For 1974 there were a total of 11,046 Meteors produced, a significant drop from the 1973 model year.  This Rideau 500 2-door hardtop was one of 2996 cars, the second most produced model, next to the Rideau 500 4-door sedan.  Ever since Meteor’s reintroduction in 1964, it had averaged about 25,000 – 30,000 cars until 1969 (peaking in 1965 at 32,628 cars).  From 1970-73 production numbers dropped off, but it consistently averaged in the neighbourhood of 15,000 cars, before consistently dropping off each year until 1976.

While I still don’t ever have a desire to have any rust on any of my vehicles, at least the rust on this car was genuinely authentic; a real Ontario survivor.  And I suppose if the new owner keeps the car in a climate controlled environment, the rust will likely keep at bay.  For those reasons, I can appreciate this car as is with its “Ontario Patina” for its historical significance.